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[casi] Civil freedoms needed under Iraq occupation, says report

UN OCHA Integrated Regional Information Network
13 Nov 2003

Civil freedoms needed under Iraq occupation, says report

AMMAN, 13 November (IRIN) - The occupation of Iraq has served to divest
people across the Arab world of many civil freedoms, something which has
challenged human development, according to a new Arab Human Development
"In 2003, Iraq fell under an occupation that most Arabs saw as embodying
plans to reshape the region from the outside to suit the interests of
foreign powers," Rima Khalaf Hunaydi, one of its authors, told IRIN in

"In response to Iraq's occupation, the report offers a "strategic vision of
change," Hunaydi said. "Ripple effects across Arab society from the US-led
invasion in Iraq should be addressed by self-reform. Such self-reform and
self-criticism can only come through education," he noted.

The report was released as part of a United Nations Development Programme
project, using a team of independent researchers sponsored by the Regional
Bureau for Arab States. It is part of a four-part series, which is expected
to cover freedoms and political institutions, as well as gender imbalance
and the empowerment of women in the 22 Arab states.

Other researchers and authors of the report agreed that education was the
only way to solve the growing "knowledge gap" in the Arab world. However,
they did not say directly what they believed should happen in Iraq.

But Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal, one of the authors who is also an Egyptian
journalist, said the report not only called for knowledge and learning but
was also "a "forewarning of imminent danger - urging us to hasten to douse
the flames of a still-small fire waiting to engulf the region in a
formidable blaze".

More importantly, the report stressed that what was happening in Iraq was
affecting the whole region. The only way for Iraqis and others to meet the
challenge of occupation was to exercise their rights, free themselves,
recover their wealth and take charge of rebuilding their country from a
human development perspective.

The report went on to call on all Arab governments to pass laws on freedom
of thought and expression so that learning could flourish. It also pointed
out that governments arbitrarily used laws on the pretext of "national
security" or public order to restrict the public.

Another area covered by the document was the media. The number of Iraqi
newspapers had exploded in recent months, although many newspapers seemed to
be financed by political parties or by wealthy financiers in the diaspora,
it said. It noted that the main Iraq Media Network's television and radio
channels were now overseen by US-led administrators.

However, the situation in Iraq differed from that obtaining in the rest of
the Arab world, where on average there were fewer than 50 newspapers per
1,000 residents, and where journalists often face threats and intimidation
across, including in Iraq, it said. Western countries have about 285
newspapers available per 1,000 people.

"So far, we're trying to prove we are news, not propaganda," Shamim Rassam,
the general manager of the Iraq Media Network, told IRIN in Baghdad. "But if
we're not getting criticism, then we're not doing anything right either,"
she said.

The report sees Iraq's occupation as another component of the US war on
terrorism, adding that "Arabs and Muslims had faced arrest and arbitrary
detention without trial or charge. In Iraq, up to 5,000 detainees are being
held for various crimes against coalition forces."

The report also focuses on civil liberties and freedoms across the Arab
world. It said following the 11 September attacks, the number of Arab
students in the US had dropped by 30 percent. Civil liberties had been
curtailed in the US, but authorities in Arab countries had also made new
laws limiting civil and political freedoms, it noted. In this context, the
Arab countries as a group had adopted the Arab Charter Against Terrorism,
which allowed censorship and restricted printing and publication, as well as
access to the Internet.

Even though Arabs make up an about 5 percent of the world population, the
number of books released in their region is only about 1 percent of the
total number of books produced around the world. Of that number, 17 percent
are religious books, compared to 5 percent in other parts of the world.

"The author and publisher are forced to submit to the moods and instructions
of 22 Arab censors," Fathi Khalil el-Biss, the vice-president of the Arab
Publishers' Union, told IRIN.

Scientific research was also stagnating in the Arab world, the report said.
Moreover, although there was plenty of imported technology, there was little
new research. Possibly as a result, about 25 percent of 1996 Arab university
graduates had emigrated. Between 1998 and 2000, an estimated 15,000 Arab
physicians also left their countries.

"Civilized nations must have a culture associated with their history of
scientific thought," said Ali Mustafa Musharrifah, another of the


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